How many Letters are in Sanskrit Alphabet?


Article No.1973

Date: 4  July 2015

Written by London swaminathan

Uploaded from London at 17-15

Sanskrit is a beautiful language and it is scientifically constructed.

Grammatical construction in Sanskrit is more concerned with inner vibration and poetical metre, hence a rigid word order guided by a continuous flow of energy brought about by internal and external Sandhi rules. The following is an example of the multiplicity of constructions from a simple root Budh, “to understand”, “to know”.

Bodhati = he or she or it understands (present tense)

Abodhat = he or she or it understood (imperfect tense)

Bodhate = he or she or it knows, understands for himself (Atmanepada)

What is Atmanepada?

Atmanepada infers an action to himself/herself

What is Parasmaipada?

Parasmaipada infers an action for someone else. Some roots belong to either A or P and some can be used both ways, and are called Ubhayapada.


Now the same verbal root prefixed with a preposition: note new meanings:

Anu bodhyate = to think of internally

Ava bodhyate = to perceive internally

Ud bodhyate = to awaken internally

Pra bodhyate = to awaken internally (a different inner vibration number)

Prati bodhyate = to observe internally

Vibo dhyate = to learn and understand internally

Sam bodhyate = to recognise internally

Now shown in Noun and Adjectival forms

Bodha, bodhana = knowledge

Buddhi = intellect

Bodhaka = informer

Baudha = wise

Buddhimat = intellectual

Budhyate = it is known by him

Bubhudtsate/ bubhudisate = he wishes to know

Bobhudhyate = he knows well

Bodhidharma = he knows a right action

Bodhisattva = one who feels the duality of truth

Budhah = a sage or planet Mercury


Yet one more example of verbal root construes, bearing in mind that each incorporates the first, second and third person, singular, dual or plural

Nii = to lead, conjugation I, guna change to radical naya (P and A)

Nayati, present tense = he leads etc (she, it)

Anayat, imperfect tense = he led etc

Nayatu, imperative mood = Let him lead

Nayet, potential mood = may he lead

Ninaaya, perfect tense = he led

Anaisit, aorist tense = he led

Nesyati, future tense = he will lead

Anesyat, conditional mood = he would have lead

Niiyate, passive construction = he is led

Naayayati, causative mood = he causes to lead

Anaayayat, imperfect causative mood = he caused to lead

Nayayatu, imperative causative = let him cause to lead

Nananet, optative causative mood = he may cause to lead

Ninaayayisati, desiderative causative

Niniisu, adjectival form = wanting to lead

Neniiyate, intensive form = he leads forcibly

Now with prefixing root with a preposition

Anunayati = to request

Apanayati = to carry away

Abhinayati = to act on the stage

Aanayati = to fetch or bring

Udnayati = to raise

Upanayati  = to offer

Nirnayati = to decide

Parinayati = to marry

Vinayati = to dispel

Samnayati = to unite

An astounding array of constructions from a simple verbal root!

Tense and Moods

The tense and moods for verbs are grouped together by Panini into ten ‘la’–kaaras. These ten ‘la’–kaaras can be divided into six tenses (kaalaa) and four moods (arthaa):

sanskrit village

Sanskrit speakers in a karnataka village

Tense = Name by Panini = English

Varathamaana = lat = Present

Anadyatanabhuta = lan = imperfect

Paroksabhuta = lit= perfect

Bhuta = lun = aorist

Anadyatana = lut = periphrastic future

Bhavisya = lrt = simple future

Mood = Name by Panini = English

Aajnaa = lot = imperative

Vidhi = lin = optative

Aasih = let = subjunctive

Samketa = lrn = conditional

Those verbs ending in ‘t’ use primary endings and are listed alphabetically : lat, lit, lut, lrt, let and lot.

Those verbs ending in ‘n’ use secondary endings: lan, lin, lun and lrn

What a great genius!

Ancient Education

Youth in ancient India, after the Upanayana ceremony, lived in the teacher’s house (Gurukula) for twelve years, to the age of 25. Sanskrit lessons, completely oral, emphasized recitation and memorization. According to the Rik Samhita (7-103) “education is hearing and repeating another’s speech”. The teacher would pronounce the verse with the proper accents, and the students, seated on the ground, repeated.

The Paniniya Siksa lists the alphabet 63 or 64 letters. One letter, the long l, is considered Duhspsta or “difficult”.

The alphabet is listed as containing different numbers of letters in various texts. It is listed as containing 43 letters in the Siva sutras. 63 or 64 in the Paniniya Siksa. 47 in the Rik Pratisakhya, 52 in the Taittiriya Pratisakhya, 65 in the Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya, and 57 in the Rik Tantra.

The Aitareya Aranyaka (2-3-6-14) defines the role of ‘a’:– A is the whole of speech, and manifested as different consonants and sibilants, it becomes many forms” (akaaro vai sarvaa vaak saisaa sparsosmabhir vyajyamaanaa bahvii naanaa ruupaa bhavati



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